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Hack my cooking: Bad induction cooker, or bad technique? (I burn or undercook foods very often with induction but not gas)

by (529)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 8:10 PM
Created June 11, 2013 at 9:23 AM

Hello.

I am generally a very good cook with a gas stove. I can cook foods through to a very particular specified doneness, and they have very good texture.

Recently, due to concerns over natural gas and carbon monoxide--improper fiters, no fan, burned food bits, leakage from badly designed units--I have purchased an induction cooker (Aroma brand--under $100/60???).

Of my currently-owned frying pans/pans, only my cast iron frying pan works with the cooker. Occasionally, I would use (and potentially overheat) a non-stick frying pan with the gas stove and hadn't used a cast iron pan with gas in awhile.

The new cooker has only 6 heat settings. Initially (4-7 months ago), I don't recall having problems frying eggs, cooking in general, making soups, etc.

Sometime a few months ago, the cooker was potentially overheated and got much dirtier due to cooking bubbled-over liquids and food spills. Even after wiping, there was still residue/damage on the (ceramic?) surface.

Sometime around (either before or after) then, I've also noticed the quality of my meals become more erratic.

I have noticed several prominent things:

  • Vegetables(such as Brussels sprouts in ghee), meats, etc. all tend to come out cooked on the outside and underdone on the inside.
  • If the cooker is turned up past the 1st or 2nd heat setting (2+ or 3+), the initial oil in the pan will begin to smoke or smell strange and presumably overheat.
  • If I try to cook underdone veggies/meat, it is very easy to burn the outside some in order to reach the desired doneness all the way through
  • Occasionally, veggies come out perfect-to-slightly-overdone, with little browning to no slight burning at all. (If I recall correctly.)
  • Steaks (1/2" - 1" thick) have come out fairly rare or quite medium when I'm aiming for rare-by-medium-rare (warm inside, still dark, slight texture change from chewy, juices are dark)
  • Very small greens (shredded herbs or small leaves of greens ~0.5cm x 0.5cm.) tend to burn and dry very quickly and easily.

My cast iron pan is also stripped of its seasoning quite a bit, and (with no oven) I have not yet reseasoned it.

I almost always heat the pan & oil first before adding foods to it.

The only other recent differences are that I've lost the lid to my cast iron pan, so all cooking has been done uncovered.

I also tend to cook much more with tongs/a spoon/a fork than a spatula.

I cook primarily with ghee and have tried cooking with butter, coconut oil, and olive oil.

My current hypotheses:

  • The induction cooker has too few temperature settings which are not fine enough. Because cast iron heats up very quickly, the higher 4 settings cause it to get too hot.
  • I have damaged the induction cooker somehow through spilling foods/hot liquids while cooking & not cleaning immediately
  • I am not cooking with good technique somehow
  • Induction cooking requires different cooking techniques in particular ways I have not been adjusting for (e.g. Heat changes are much more instantaneous compared to a gas stove)
  • I am somehow using too much fat in the pan, which is contributing to rapid overheating.
  • My cast iron pan is affecting the cooking due to its stripped seasoning
  • Using tongs/fork/spoon instead of spatula has changes my cooking technique.
  • I have become more sensitive to fats being cooked at too hot a temperature so am reluctant to turn the temperature up high enough

I would very much like to figure out why my foods are coming out underdone or burnt and am also considering purchasing an induction cooker like the NuWave with much finer temperature controls. Any advice, hypotheses, or thoughts would be much appreciated.

Please let me know whether I can provide more, or more useful or precise information.

Also, as a bonus question -- I am considering purchasing a tabletop oven with glass doming, and wonder: Will tabletop ovens alter the quality of my food in a negative manner? And, if not, what's a cost-effective option with fine temperature controls that can be used at least for seasoning cast iron, baking meats, and a plus for potentially making yogurt/drying?

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880 · June 11, 2013 at 12:19 PM

In regards to reseasoning your pan: you can do so on the stove. You'll only be able to season the inner part of the pan, not the outside (although the inner part is the part that needs to be really seasoned well) and it's going to generate a LOT of smoke, but if you're really running into issues with the pan, it's an option.

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4 Answers

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19120 · June 11, 2013 at 12:07 PM

I've worked on a full-range, induction surface before, and I would suggest simply getting new (and better) pots and pans meant for an induction surface.

Cast iron should continue to work, but make sure the pan is completely flat, flush against the induction surface. Cast iron will heat up very, very hot on induction, so your observations aren't crazy at all. If the cast iron is not appropriately wide enough for the induction surface, that can be as bad for not being flush with the surface.

I honestly do not know how these small, portable units work compared to the real thing. They may be more prone to damage, and your suspicions correct.

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0 · February 01, 2014 at 8:46 AM

The Vollrath Mirage Pro has 100 steps of power settings. So its easy to control using a rotary knob. Like a gas range. Always put food in the pan. Do not heat a thin layer of initial oil. The induction cookers can easily hit well above the smoke point and maybe flash point of the oil with an empty or nearly empty pan. ALWAYS put something substantial in the pan. This will also protect the tempreture sensor (NTC resistor) used in most of the induction cookers. On most of the units that have temnp control in addition to power settings, the temperatures are best regarded as a rought guide, or relative scale, rather than abosolute. The Mirage pro is nearly silent, has excellent control circuitry, has a pretty rounded stainless case. And has a great user support and warrantee support from the Vollrath company. I also have 3 other induction units of different price ranges that I play with. I would stick to power mode if you are having problems. Try to use just one pot at ifrst till you the feel of it for that pan.

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5853 · June 11, 2013 at 5:48 PM

Most small portable induction units that i have worked have very uneven heating surface, and usually its much smaller than actually is marked on the glass (i have opened one to see). Usually most induction hobs do badly with lower temps.

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20 · June 11, 2013 at 12:19 PM

My guess would be that the cheap burner somehow is not consistent in its temperature control, of you're overcompensating for what you feel is too hot or too cool a pan and have just not yet become accustomed to how quickly induction affects the pan temp.

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